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How CarMax is using digital tools to empower employees to serve customers online and in person in real time

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  • The auto industry has lagged behind in embracing digital, but CarMax, the nation’s largest used-car retailer, started expanding its online capabilities — like at-home car buying — a few years ago.
  • When the pandemic hit, these digital offerings became more important than ever, and CarMax sped up the rollout to reach all of its customers.
  • The company used Salesforce Field Service to facilitate in-person contactless appointments, curbside pickup, home deliveries, and data-powered customer service.

Today’s customers expect shopping to be simple, streamlined, and personalized, with a uniform experience across channels. But buying a car? Historically that’s been a complex endeavor that included a lot of back-and-forth between the customer and the salesperson, finance arrangements, as well as a test drive. Because store and showroom visits were considered to be a crucial step in making this significant purchase, the auto industry has lagged behind other retailers in providing a state-of-the-art online experience.

CarMax, the nation’s largest used-car retailer, decided to change that. First the company improved its website to help customers navigate shopping and financing, and it empowered salespeople by swapping their mishmash of customer-relationship-management software and paper notebooks in its 200-plus stores for Salesforce enterprise CRM capabilities.

“With Salesforce, we unified our CRM,” says Bryan Ennis, vice president of regional customer-experience centers and customer relations at CarMax. “The next phase was finding a way to unite the digital and the in-person shopping experience.”

The company developed an omnichannel experience focused on enabling customers to buy a car on their terms, whether online, in-store, or a seamless combination of both. Buyers could also choose to pick up their car in the store or have it delivered to their home.  

Powering a new way to buy cars during a pandemic

CarMax had already made online buying available to the majority of its customers when the pandemic hit, which accelerated the rollout of new features. Some stores were forced to temporarily close, while others had occupancy restrictions, due to state and local mandates. Customers and employees worried about safety. Buyers wanted to spend less time in the store and complete more of the process online. To support these needs, CarMax expanded digital car buying to all customers and focused on providing an exceptional experience that is convenient and personalized, with significant safety measures in place.

The company moved quickly to improve sanitation at its stores, provide masks for associates and customers, and arrange for social distancing. CarMax also needed to help customers who wanted to complete more of their car-buying journey from home so that by the time they came into the store they could do a test drive — without a salesperson in the car — and speedily complete their contactless purchase with confidence. To do that, it leaned into the concierge-style contact centers it had opened in the past year to offer support to customers shopping online through email, phone, or chat.

To manage appointments and further unify communications, CarMax deployed Salesforce Field Service. Sales representatives could help tailor the customer appointment to exactly what they needed and where they were in their shopping journey, and enable customers to obtain financing, get an offer on their trade-in, and sign documents online, all of which makes the in-person experience much faster and more convenient. Salesforce Field Service even allows customers to schedule a car delivery to their home, where they can test-drive it and complete their purchase without ever visiting a store, if they prefer.

With Salesforce Field Service, delivery drivers know what time the customer expects the car and receive maps and traffic information for the drive. If the customer calls the experience center to change the appointment, the field-service management solution instantly updates drivers, car preppers, and everyone else.

“When you have a unified view, you can quickly change workflows,” Ennis says.

In addition, Salesforce Field Service gives drivers, car preppers, service technicians, and other employees access to relevant customer details in the Salesforce CRM right in the palm of their hands via a secure mobile app, allowing everyone along the sales journey to provide personalized service. For example, one customer who had a car delivered also had a new baby and a new job — details the drivers and car preppers saw in Salesforce Field Service.

“We delivered a package of baby toys to delight and surprise her along with the new car,” Ennis says.

Providing a personalized customer experience

CarMax employees have access to Salesforce Service Cloud and Sales Cloud, which gives necessary customer information at their fingertips — information they previously had to search for in scattered databases.

When a customer calls a contact center or reaches out online, associates know immediately who they are, whether they have bought a car or obtained financing from CarMax previously, and which cars they’ve been browsing on the website.

“We can quickly personalize our service based on what the customer needs,” Ennis says.

CarMax also began using a customized artificial-intelligence recommendation engine, Einstein Language, in addition to Service Cloud and its own data-science algorithms, to recommend customer next steps.

“We’ve found the Salesforce recommendations tremendously helpful in shortening the sales cycle,” Ennis says. “Associates know exactly when, where, and how to follow up with customers using recommendations powered by data science and AI.”

Managing back-end processes

Reimagining the car-buying process required CarMax to rethink the way it was using Salesforce. And, the changes had to be easy for employees to understand and implement quickly to support customers during the pandemic. 

“We transitioned our express pickup experience into a contactless curbside pickup and scaled it nationwide in three weeks,” Ennis says. “That’s the power of the Salesforce platform.”

Working with Salesforce representatives also helped, Ennis says. “When we have a customer problem we’re trying to solve, we can tap into the Salesforce organization. They have done a great job of prioritizing our needs based on our challenges.”

A world-class omnichannel experience

Though the pandemic will pass, the new omnichannel shopping experience CarMax has created and launched over the past several years is here to stay and is the future of car buying. Unifying communications and increasing transparency has helped the company put customers and employees on the same page.

Thanks to the changes CarMax made, customers now have a streamlined experience and a high level of personalized attention from the time they start browsing the company’s website to the moment they turn the keys and drive their vehicle off the lot — or out of the driveway.

“Selling cars is all about relationships — building trust, giving the right recommendations, and respecting the customer’s time,” Ennis says. “Salesforce has given us the tools to support every step of the customer’s journey and build a world-class omnichannel experience.”

Learn more about how Salesforce Field Service can help your business.

This post was created by Insider Studios with Salesforce.